August 14, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8894

Turkey's Religious Affairs Ministry, Authority Over Hagia Sophia Mosque And 2,000 Mosques Around The World, Part III – Statements And Actions On Religious Minorities, Secularism, Homosexuality, And Alcohol

August 14, 2020
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8894

In a July 10, 2020 decree, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan converted the Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque and placed it under the authority of the country's Ministry of Religious Affairs.[1]Turkey's Ministry of Religious Affairs, colloquially and in this report referred to as the Diyanet, an abbreviation of its Turkish name Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı, was founded in 1924 as a successor to the office of the Ottoman Sheikh Al-Islam.[2] In Turkey, the Diyanet runs 89,259 mosques and 22,758 Quran schools.[3] It runs another 2,000 mosques abroad[4] in countries including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and Norway.

This is a four-part series on Diyanet activity in Turkey and Europe as reported by Turkish-language sources. The following Table of Contents shows the subjects to be included in each part: 

Part I – Turkish Press Reports On Ministry's Jihad Connections, Corruption

  • Personnel And Budget

  • Publications And Broadcasting Apparatus

  • Organizational Structure

  • Corruption

  • Jihadi Connections In Turkey

  • Messaging Concerning Jihad, Martyrdom, And Hijra ("Migration" i.e., To The Islamic State) On Main Website And European Branch Websites

Part II – Statements On Women, Children: Girls Are Permitted To Marry, Become Pregnant At Age Nine; If 'A Father Lustfully Kisses His Daughter Or Lustfully Hugs Her, The Mother... Becomes Forbidden' To Him; 'If He Beats You... Say: "I Will Do Whatever You Like"'

  • Diyanet Resources Being Used To Promote AKP And Its Policies

  • On Children

  • On Women

Part III – Statements And Actions On Religious Minorities, Secularism, Homosexuality, And Alcohol

  • On Religious Minorities In Turkey

  • On Secularism

  • On Alcohol

  • On Education, Homosexuality, And New Years' Celebrations

Part IV – Police Investigate Jihad Sermon In The Netherlands; Many Ministry Magazine Articles Complain Of Charlie Hebdo 'Insults' While Remaining Silent On Attack

  • Diyanet Offices Abroad

  • Diyanet In Germany

  • Diyanet In Netherlands

  • Diyanet In France

  • Diyanet In Switzerland

  • Diyanet In Austria

  • Diyanet In Denmark

  • Diyanet In Belgium And Norway

  • Diyanet In U.S., U.K., Australia, And Canada

  • Diyanet In Iran And Pakistan

The Diyanet emblem

Part III – Statements And Actions On Religious Minorities, Secularism, Homosexuality, And Alcohol

The Diyanet has made statements hostile to religious minorities in Turkey. In April 2018, Diyanet Minister Erbaş said of deism: "No one from our nation would ever credit to such a perverted, superstitious understanding." A past Diyanet minister opposed granting Alevi places of worship legal status as such, and said the issue was "our red line." While the Hagia Sophia is by far the most notable example of the conversion into a mosque under Diyanet authority of a building in Turkey that was formerly a non-Muslim house of worship, it is only one such example, of which there are others.

Many Turkish writers have proposed that the Diyanet is an anti-secular force in Turkey. Journalist Eser Karaş wrote: "Every debate in Turkey about secularism that does not discuss, does not examine the existence of the Diyanet is wrong; beyond wrong, it is absolutely ridiculous." Indeed, on November 9, 2018, Diyanet Minister Erbaş visited Kadir Mısıroğlu, a prominent Islamist and anti-secularist writer and lawyer known, among other things, for controversial statements such as: "Let shari'a come and if necessary Turkey can fall, I would be content."

On Religious Minorities In Turkey

Shi'ite Alevis, who are the second-largest religious group in Turkey after Hanafi Sunnis, worship in a building called a cemevi (i.e., a place where a cem ceremony is performed). During a period of debate about whether cemevis in Turkey should be given the legal status of "house of worship," then Diyanet minister Mehmet Görmez, who opposed giving the cemevis such a status, said that the issue is "our red line."[5] In January 2020, a proposal that the CHP and IYI, two opposition parties, submitted to the Greater Istanbul Municipal Government assembly to recognize the cemevleri of Istanbul as houses of worship was voted down by the AKP and MHP.[6] In 2013 it was estimated that there were 937 cemevis in Turkey.[7]

Aside from the Hagia Sophia, there are many buildings in Turkey that were built as churches and synogogues in the past and that the Diyanet uses as mosques today. A synogogue in the city of Çorlu was converted into a mosque in the 1970s. The Fırfırlı Mosque, which was a church until 1956, Selahaddin Eyyubi Mosque, which was a church until 1993, and the Circis Peygamber Mosque, which was a church until 1965, can all be found in the center of the city of Urfa.[8] Other former churches that are today mosques in Istanbul include: Bodrum Mosque, the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, the Kalenderane Mosque, the Church Mosque, the Kocamustafa Paşa Mosque, the Fethiye Mosque, the Gül Mosque, and the Arap Mosque.[9]

The Bodrum Mosque in Istanbul (left) and the Fırfırlı mosque in Urfa are two of the many mosques in Turkey original built as churches.

In September 2017 it was reported that many pieces of property, including churches, monasteries, and tombs, belonging to Suryanis in Mardin were transferred to the Treasury Ministry and then given to the Diyanet. The Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation objected to the decision, but the commission in charge of the seizure rejected the objections.[10] The decision was later reversed following a public outcry including criticism from European Parliament MP Renate Sommer.[11]

Investigative journalist Emin Çölaşan pointed out in an October 2019 column that while even churches in Turkey fly a Turkish flag, very few of the country's mosques do. He lists only two examples of mosques that fly a Turkish flag.[12]

The number of atheists and deists in Turkey has been increasing in recent years.[13] In September 2018 it was reported that there had been a "secret atheism meeting" at the Diyanet.[14] On August 6, 2019, it was reported that the Diyanet planned to print books "for its struggle" with atheism and deism.[15] In April 2018, Diyanet Minister Erbaş said of deism: "No one from our nation would ever credit to such a perverted, superstitious understanding." Turkey's Atheism Association reacted to the statement, saying: "We regretfully condemn this understanding, which seeks to sweep away, despise, and exclude, with statements with dimensions that reach insults, citizens because of their religious or philosophical views."[16] In November of that year, Erbaş called deism "a very interesting trap."[17] The Diyanet has also commented on the writing of prominent scientists and writers known, among other things, for their atheism, including biologist Richard Dawkins and the late journalist Christopher Hitchens.[18]

On Secularism

Turkey's constitution says that the Diyanet, "which is within the general administration, shall exercise its duties prescribed in its particular law, in accordance with the principles of secularism, removed from all political views and ideas, and aiming at national solidarity and integrity."[19] Despite this, on November 9, 2018, Diyanet Minister Erbaş visited Kadir Mısıroğlu, a prominent Islamist and anti-secularist writer and lawyer known, among other things, for controversial statements such as: "Let shari'a come and if necessary Turkey can fall, I would be content."[20]

Diyanet Minister Erbaş visited Kadir Mısıroğlu, who said: "Let shari'a come and if necessary Turkey can fall, I would be content."

In interviews conducted in April 2015, several Turkish intellectuals gave their views on the Diyanet and its relations with religious minorities. Turkish mathematician Ali Nesin said of the Diyanet that it needs to represent all beliefs and absences of belief. Mehmet Bekaroğlu, a politician representing the opposition CHP, said that the state should be equidistant from all religions. Laki Vingas, a former representative for the Minorities Foundation, expressed the need to reform the Diyanet. Ali Kenanoğlu, former president of the Alevi Culture Association said that the existence of an institution such as the Diyanet made it clear that the country could not be secular.[21] Some Turks have objected to the use of public funds at all for the Diyanet.[22] Fatih Altaylı, a prominent journalist and anchor for Habertürk, recommended in April 2020: "They should bring in a 'faith tax.' Those who say 'I do not believe,' or who do not use the mosques, would not have to pay this tax."[23]

Turkish musician Erhan Güleryüz, at a Victory Day concert he gave on August 30, 2019, at İğneada, criticized the Diyanet's failure to mention Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, in the sermon that it had distributed to Turkey's mosques that day. August 30, a national holiday in Turkey, is the anniversary of the Turkish victory at the Battle of Damlupınar, which was a significant victory in Turkey's War of Independence. Speeches given on that day often mention Atatürk. Secularist writers in Turkey frequently object to the failure to mention the country's founder in sermons, all of which are prepared and distributed by the Diyanet, given on national holidays.[24] At his concert, Güleryüz addressed the Diyanet: "Who are you, that you hesitate to say the name of Mustafa Kemal? Today is Friday. Atatürk's name was not said in the Friday sermon. I am not embarrassed about this because anyway their grandfathers fled the war. Those blowhards, saying 'I'm a merchant of religion.' Which of us is religious, you, me?" He was detained for three hours following the concert. A public prosecutor requested that he be imprisoned for six months to one year and have certain rights revoked.[25]

Turkish economist Eser Karakaş criticized "so-called secularists" who, while condemning the Diyanet's failure to mention Atatürk in its Victory Day sermon, miss the entirely anti-secular nature of the Diyanet itself. He said that he wanted to ask those writers: "Can such an institution as the Diyanet, whatever positions it takes, be financed by the general funds of a secular state?" He summarizes his position thus: "In my estimation, the best definition of secularism is that famous First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (1791)... I guess the best definition of secularism that we [Turks] have is the one we learned in elementary school: 'The separation of the affairs of religion and the state.' I suppose that the existing situation, with a 12-billion-lira budget, 120,000 imams and workers whose salaries are paid for with tax funds, the unbelievable fatwas that are issued, the Diyanet does not fit into this definition. The essence of the matter is this: Every debate in Turkey about secularism that does not discuss, does not examine the existence of the Diyanet is wrong; beyond wrong, it is absolutely ridiculous."[6]

Economist Eser Karakaş wrote: "Every debate in Turkey about secularism that does not discuss, does not examine the existence of the Diyanet is wrong; beyond wrong, it is absolutely ridiculous."

In September 2017, a group of nine theologians calling themselves "Ataturkist and Republican" called in a written statement for the Diyanet to "carry out its duty to secularism as it should" and for sermons about secularism to be delivered in all the mosques in the country.[27]

On September 1, 2019, it was reported that Reşit Keleş, member of the Municipal Assembly of Çorum representing the AKP, said in a tweet: "The Diyanet will prepare its sermons according to the Kemalists. The Diyanet will give its fatwas according to the Kemalists. Muslims will cover their heads according to the Kemalists. Muslims will believe according to the Kemalists. Kemalists will determine what is halal and haram for Muslims. And then we will call this secularism. Who do you think you are, you sons of bitches."[28]

On Alcohol

On September 3, 2019, it was reported that the buildings of the Bomonti Beer Factory located in central Istanbul were transferred to the Diyanet and that there were plans for the buildings to be converted into a prayer hall and a dorm, rather than be torn down. The factory, built in 1890, and the buildings that belong to it, were registered in 1998 by the Istanbul Conservation Council No. 1 as a "culture asset that must be protected."[29] On June 13, 2014, it was reported that the municipal government of Alaçatı, a district of the city of Izmir, had turned over stores at which alcohol was sold and other properties to the Diyanet.[30]

The Bomonti Beer Factory in Istanbul, built in 1890 (source:

On February 11, 2019, it was reported that the Diyanet had opened a lawsuit against Yeni Rakı, a company that produces rakı, an alcoholic drink popular in Turkey, for using the word âlâ for one of its brands. While âlâ is listed in the dictionary of the Turkish Language Institute as meaning simply "good, excellent, the finest,"[31] and its use in Turkish includes non-religious contexts, the Diyanet argued in its petition that because this word is used as one of the names of Allah, it should not be used for a brand of alcohol, the consumption of which is forbidden in Islam.[32]

Mehmet Kapukaya, member of the Diyanet's Religious Affairs High Council, said: "To our brothers who are going to carry out the worship of sacrifice, the sacrificial animals should not be purchased from markets that sell alcohol.[33] The Diyanet's website says that it is a sin and is forbidden to work in a place where alcohol and other haram (i.e., forbidden in Islam) products are sold.[34]

On Education, Homosexuality, And New Years' Celebrations

The Diyanet has issued fatwas and statements on many cultural matters. Other Diyanet fatwas say that celebrating New Years corrupts "supreme values"[35] and that to listen to music that arouses sexual desire or to sing such songs is forbidden.[36] In 2017, Diyanet said that it would put the largest part of its increasing budget into the "struggle against moral corruption."[37]

Diyanet Minister Erbaş criticized the "Honor Marches" (i.e., Pride Parades) that are organized by members of the LGBT community and held ever year in June. He said: "For the aforementioned propaganda, which destroys the family and disregards human and moral values, to be served by concepts such as freedom and honor is a perception operation and a sleight of hand. A woman who takes being a mother out of the equation and a man who takes being a father out of the equation is a perversion against imagining, nature, and creation, and throughout history it has been rejected and condemned by all faiths."[38]

On March 24, 2020, it was reported that former Diyanet minister Mehmet Görmez had said in an interview in which he discussed the global spread of COVID-19, colloquially known as the Coronavirus: "In recent times, one of the biggest mistakes being made is ignoring the creator of the universe, who made it exist from nothing, in the name not of science, but of scientism... To study and to comment while ignoring Allah, His existence, and the laws that he placed on the universe, is one of the biggest mistakes."[39] The Diyanet said that the virus was "a divine warning to humanity, which is upsetting the balance in the world."[40]

Diyanet Minister Erbaş called in September 2019 for more hafizs, or people who have memorized the recitation of the Quran in Arabic, saying: "If one percent of the people in this country were hafiz, it would mean 820,000 hafizs. But now we have two hafizs for every 1,000 people. This is not enough."[41] He said a couple days later, addressing hafizs: "We are waiting for you at the Diyanet."[42]

In 2013 the Diyanet reportedly issued a 70-question survey asking people about their religious beliefs and fining those who declined to answer the survey. The questions the Diyanet asked included: "Do you believe in Allah's existence?"; "Are you a member of a formation such as Alevisim, Bektashism, Khalwatism, or Qadirism?"; "From whom do you learn religion?"; "How religious is your family? Of what religion are they members?"; "What is your situation with regard to forms of worship such as fasting, going on hajj, zakat, donating money during Ramadan, and sacrificing animals?"; "Do you think that angels enter a home that has a dog on it?"; "When you have guests, do men and women sit separately?"; "Do you flirt before marriage?"; "How frequently do you pray?"; "When you vote, do you give importance to whether or not the candidate is religious?"; and "Is secularism the warrant to live Islam freely?"[43]


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